Move Over Wine, These Ithaca Cideries are Making a Splash!
When most people think of the Finger Lakes region of New York, the first thing that comes to mind is usually wine. And for good reason! The Finger Lakes has been voted as the number one wine region by USA Today for the past two years. Several craft breweries have also recently joined the game. But the newest contender of adult beverages in the Finger Lakes? Cider! And these Ithaca cideries are making a splash in the craft beverage industry. Find out why.
Thank you to Ithaca County for hosting me on my trip to the cideries and cider tasting event.
The History of Cider in the USA
Cider is actually one of the oldest beverages popular in the United States. According to an article by Washington State University, “In Colonial America, cider was the most common beverage.” It was a drink of choice for our founding fathers George Washington and John Adams.
Why was it so popular? Because apples were one of the largest and hardiest crops in the New England area. Apples are the official state fruit of New York to this day. Back then, it was easy to ferment the apples into a cider to make a drink that would last longer. It was so common that even children drank it – just like kids used to drink beer in Germany!
Over the years, the popularity of cider dwindled, only to be replaced with beer, wine, and other beverages. But cider is making a comeback! Jason Wilson, aka Booze Columnist, describes this in recent book “The Cider Revival“. He spent extensive time in various locations learning the history of local cider – and sampling along the way! Jason traveled through New York and the northeast, down to Virginia, and west to Washington. He even spent some time doing research in Europe. Jason documents the difference in cider styles over time and geographic location.
What Makes Cider Special?
Most people think that cider is like beer, but made with apples. But in reality, cider making is much more similar to wine making. Wine is created from fermented grapes while cider is from fermented apples. They are both higher in sugar-content than beer, but just like wine, cider can range from dry to sweet and still to sparkling.
Old-fashioned, traditional ciders were made with wild apples, and thus had a funkier, earthier taste. Modern ciders tend to be sweeter and high in carbonation. But there are some cideries who are reverting back to traditional styles, though it remains varied across different regions in the US.
Several big-name ciders have become popular in recent years. The trend started with Red’s Apple Ale, Angry Orchard, and Woodchuck. But now the smaller, craft cideries are making a name for themselves.
Through his research, Jason found that Ithaca has the ideal environment for making the best cider. That certainly explains all the Ithaca cideries that have been popping up!
Last fall I was lucky enough to visit several of the cideries on a trip to Ithaca. I also attended a cider tasting event where I got to learn more in-depth about the local cideries and their stories.
Many of the Ithaca cideries have tasting rooms to visit among their orchards, and several can be found at the weekly farmer’s market in downtown Ithaca. But due to restrictions with the current pandemic, tastings and visitations are currently limited. You can still show your support and try the ciders by ordering bottles for pick-up.
After getting inspired on a trip to France, Cheryl & Bill Barton set their sights on creating their own ciders. Now they are the proud owners of Bellwether Cider, focusing on making ciders using European varieties of apples.
Black Diamond Cidery
Jackie and Ian Merwin are the creative couple who established Black Diamond Cidery in 2014. But don’t be deceived. They have over 30 years of experience making cider. And I’m not surprised. I had the hardest time choosing which cider of theirs was my favorite! We ended up coming home with a few bottles, and I think Hickster was my favorite. I think.
The O’Connor family puts their heart and soul into Blackduck Cidery creating cider on their farm. Each member of the family plays a role, not just Shannon and John, but also their daughters Idunn and Pippin. In addition to their line of ciders, they also produce apple cider vinegar and perry (made from pears).
According to Eve’s Cidery, “cider is bottled sunshine in another form.” And I have to agree! The cidery was started on a u-pick apple orchard in 2001 by James and Autumn. The orchard no longer allows visitors to pick, as the apples are all used to create ciders. So now visitors get to sample the product! In all of the cider I tried in Ithaca, Eve’s Rustica was one of my absolute favorites.
Grisamore Cider Works
A true family owned and operated company, Grisamore Cider Works has been creating small batch cider since 1975. The current owners are the grandchildren of the founders, and they stick to their family principles. While their menu of ciders is limited, they have perfected the batches that they make.
Kite & String Cider
If you’re looking for a bite to eat while sampling your cider, Finger Lakes Cider House is the place for you. As the home of Kite & String Cider, the cider house has a fantastic farm-to-table menu serving flavorful, locally-sourced meals. I highly recommend the grilled cheese! Back to the cider… Kite & String is a product of Good Life Farm. The farm itself was established by Melissa Madden and Garrett Miller in 2008. Five years later, they started producing cider with the help of Garrett’s brother Jimmy. Now they produce an extensive variety of different ciders, from dry to very sweet and still to sparkling.
New York Cider Company
The creative folks at New York Cider Company believe in very traditional methods of cider-making. Some of the trees that they harvest are over 125 years old! Through the cider-making process, they use wild fermentation methods – that means they don’t add any yeast. Instead, they let the apples do what they will! Of course, there is less control in this method, but it makes for a more authentic cider. Flavors will vary slightly, so don’t expect every bottle to taste the same. And the sediment at the bottom? That’s supposed to be there! Proof that the cider fermented and conditioned.
Redbyrd Orchard Cider
The cider makers at Redbyrd Orchard Cider have nearly two decades of experience making cider, with one decade being public. Eric Shatt is the mastermind and orchardist behind the flavors. One thing that really makes Redbyrd stand out as a company is their dedication to the indigenous people of the region. The orchard lies on land once owned by the Haudenosaunee people. Redbyrd regularly acknowledges their support and appreciation of the native culture, and also makes monetary donations to organizations supporting the history.
South Hill Cider
Not only does South Hill Cider has some of the best views in Ithaca, they are also dedicated to making the best use of the land in collaboration with their neighbors. Self proclaimed ‘apple hunter’ Steve Selin is the master of this cidery. Being a musician by trade, you’ll notice that many of the ciders have musically inspired names. Steve has nearly 20 years of experience making cider. The land for the cidery was purchased in 2014, then 2019 marked another milestone with the construction of their new, gorgeous tasting room.
Ready to Sample Some Cider?
Now that you know more about cider, its history, and how it’s made, are you ready to do some tasting of your own? Head down to the Finger Lakes to visit these cideries in Ithaca and enjoy!